A few years ago, Skype was the rockstar of the messaging world, but now with smartphones and mobile messaging apps like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and iMessage, Skype’s iPhone feature-set and application have begun to stagnate. However, the Skype development team has not been standing still. The Microsoft-owned company is revealing today that it is nearing the launch of a completely revamped Skype application for the iPhone and iPod touch. I met with lead Skype designer Guilherme Schneider last week for an exclusive preview and an interview regarding the new software, and the application certainly seems impressive…
The new design is flat, clean and easy to use. With large and colorful buttons, the interface is more accessible and quicker to navigate. The interface ditches the classic tab bar from the current version of the app in favor of a Windows Phone-style swipe gesture.
With the new app, users can swipe between their contacts list, recent contacts, and favorite people. At the bottom of the app, there are quick action buttons to launch the Skype phone dialer and open chats list. While the interface is akin to that of the Windows Phone and Android Skype apps, it still feels at home on iOS.
The scrolling and the fonts inside of the chat windows are a major improvement over the current version of Skype for iPhone. Additionally, the new app has in-app notification banners so that you can view new Skype messages as they roll in without leaving your current chat window. There is also a nice gesture for swiping quickly between multiple conversations.
At the bottom of each chat window, there are quick buttons to access voice calling, video calling, and an additional options panel. The entire experience is cleaner, more fun, and now poses comparisons to the fluidity of Apple’s in-house iOS Messages app.
New to Skype on iPhone is a Favorites tab that provides large profile icons of the people you talk to most. The interface is similar to the icon tiles on the Windows Phone home screen, but it still feels at home on iOS. As Schneider said in our interview, “we rebuilt the Skype for iPhone calling experience to fit seamlessly into iOS and optimize for mobile users.”
He also noted that iOS is the last platform to receive Skype’s new look, and this means that the iPhone expierience received the full attention of all of Skype’s mobile app designers. As Schneider noted, “we created this version with very high standards and went the extra mile to make sure we were proud of every design component we included.”
Rounding out the ground-up redesign are improvements to two areas: more integrated chatting and messaging synchronization.
Using the new chat button, group chats can more easily be created from an iPhone. Messages to offline users can also now be sent and received, and those messages will appear upon the user’s next sign-in into Skype.
Certainly important to me, Skype now has improved message read/unread notification syncing between multiple devices. So if I have Skype running on my iPad and my iPhone and I read the message on my phone, it will, too, become read on my iPad.
Speaking of notifications, Schneider said that Skype is aware of the interactive notifications enhancements in iOS 8 and that the company is excited about the possibilities for Skype with those new features. While Skype would not confirm which additional features it is considering for the iOS 8 update, it would make sense for the firm to develop a Notification Center widget to quickly access contacts as well as an extension to share content via other apps through the Skype app.
While the 5.0 update is being announced today, Skype is aiming to actually release the new version sometime next week. Skype has no specific announcement plans for an updated iPad app, but a new version for the Apple tablets is in the works, according to Schneider.
At a time when Apple is adding improved group chatting and media messaging to iMessage, when Facebook is buying up messaging apps for billions of dollars, and ephemeral messaging apps and popping up at a rapid pace, the original king of messaging is taking a new step onto Apple’s platform, and I believe that users will appreciate the faster interface, fresh design, and much improved chatting.